Sunday, October 23, 2005

Molloy Among the Antiquities

Molloy is proud to report that, during ten days of driving in Greece, around cities that included, but may not have been limited to, since some of the driving was under somewhat hectic conditions—Delphi, Olympia, Knossos, Epidaurus, and the ancient Acropolis—Molloy is proud to report that he invariably did the Right Thing.  He went to the archeological museums to see pediments on which warriors fought and died, engaged in the ancient power struggles that made ancient life worthwhile; on which men leap-frogged over bulls, threw heavy things in contests, boxed, drank wine, played or listened to anciently-shaped stringed instruments, wrestled gripping each others’ testicles, threw spears, or shot arrows; on which divinities variously involved themselves in the lives of humans, weighing scales, directing the wind and the rain, rustling up earthquakes and tempests, imposing sexual favors, etc.; in which various types of drinks were served or imbibed from both ritual and ordinary cups; on which enjoyable activities like dancing and sex were displayed.  And then there were the divinities, warriors, animals, beautiful ladies, and the like.

Molloy gazed, transported by the craftsmanship and the abiding spirit of stability and tranquility, even among figures locked in struggle and pain.

Molloy thanks not only all the pantheon of the heavens responsible for inspiring the images and granting humans the ability to articulate them, but Molloy thanks the pantheon of the heavens for more modern aristocratic social hierarchies (but is glad he is part of one that is less aristocratic) for the men of means and leisure and the obsessive interest to dig these remains out of the ground at their own expense.  And now for the preservationist instinct that finds funds, public or private, to number each and every stone and artifact from a dig (you can see the numbers on the stones as you walk around the sites, the artifacts have been removed for safety to museums, sometimes by other countries over the objections of the originating country—e.g. Greece and the Elgin marbles) and then reconstruct, as far as possible, the buildings, or even to partially restore the site, as Arthur Evans did with Knossos (acknowledging the controversies over his imaginative reconstructions) with some 250,000 pounds of his own.  Molloy must also acknowledge the cultural debt to a religion that could fund Michelangelo’s creations and provide Bach and Mozart with commissions.

But finally, when all is said and done, Molloy must give thanks to another force for good in the world:  the souvenir industry.

In the country of Christian Orthodoxy (ambiguous as that term can be), believers furnish visitors, encourage them, wheedle, cajole, and sometimes virtually drag them into their shops, to acquire ancient religious icons and take them home to function as domestic tutelary deities.

At Mycenae, standing apart from her tour group, Molloy observed, and pointed out to Men Tal, a woman devoutly reading her Christian Bible, shaded by a section of ancient pagan wall.  Her forefinger moved diligently over the sacred lines, protected by the wall from another sacred time.  She was an icon of western orthodoxy in a Greek Orthodox country, concentrating in a pagan site.  Molloy speculates that she was somewhat desperately protecting herself from the spirits surrounding her, spirits mean-spiritedly turned into demons by Christian apologists nearly 2000 years ago.  Or, perhaps, she was just reading her Bible because it was her devout commitment to read every day, and that point in the tour—there was shade, she was tired from the climb—seemed an apt enough time.

This paradoxical anomaly appealed to Molloy’s strict and keen sense of proprieties.

But even such a lady might feel the pull of so many figurines, from life-size (who can buy them, and what would they do to get them home, Molloy wonders often, mostly trying to figure out how he could buy one and get it home) to compact purse size, easy to wrap in a towel or sweatshirt for the long journey home (or to sit on, as Rachel so impertinently did when her father questioned her about missing household deities).  The Kourios Boy, for example, or the Minoan snake goddess, or a pair of comic/tragic masks, might fittingly occupy a place, one on either side of the homely picture of the mild-mannered (at most times), blonde-haired, blue-eyed savior descended (so the legend goes) from the rough and swarthy herding tribe of Benjamin, David’s own.

Whilst some loathe what they consider the tacky, huckstering spirit behind souvenir shops—one guidebook calls them “shameless”—Molloy sees them somewhat differently.  Perhaps unawares guided by the spirit of their own ancient heritage, the shopowners gift the gifts of art and divinity to one and all, in manageable sizes and affordable prices.  They are not unlike the souvenir stands outside every cathedral.  The charioteer can stand sentinel—or Nike, or Athena, Zeus, Poseidon, or, indeed, the snake goddess, whose attire foreshadows a famous “mistake” at a Super Bowl half-time extravaganza—on the mantel over the fireplace, protector of home and hearth, or the Minotaur, erect and finishing the last morsel of a leg of man.  The Orthodox Church, and the Western Church home-based in Italy—must have decreed that these are not demons after all, since the visitor in search of life’s less tangible meanings encounters these images everywhere.

Molloy, a seeker himself, gathers armloads of these spirits, legends, divinities, heroes, male or female, human or animal, on plates, cups, refrigerator magnets, postcards, snowdomes, and plaques provided with convenient hangers, to array around him in the contemplative quiet of his home, where he can engage with them in solemn conversations about the ages and eras of humankind.


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